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Her first sound was more bleat than wail, but she had ten fingers and ten toes, and that was all Decker cared about. Wrinkled and red, her skin covered with something akin to cold cream, she seemed perturbed by the world rather than scared by it. Decker watched as Georgina, the labor nurse, scooped his daughter from the obstetrician's arms into her own. After rubbing the infant with a towel and giving her a quick exam, the nurse swaddled her in a blanket. The baby was finally presented to Papa for inspection.
She had a mottled face, her nose scrunching as she beeped rather than cried. Her eyes were closed, lids as thin as onionskin. Downy fuzz covered her scalp. Decker took a gloved index finger and placed it on a tiny palm. Slowly, soft pink digits encircled his finger. It brought tears to his eyes.
"Is she okay?" Rina's voice was anxious.
"She's perfect, darlin'," Decker answered. "Just . . . perfect."
"Of course she's perfect!" Georgina folded thick arms across her bosom. "We only deliver perfect babies here."
Decker shifted his attention from his daughter to his wife. Rina's eyes were red-rimmed, her lips moving in silent prayer. Damp black tresses lay across her forehead. Never had she looked so beautiful.
"She's perfect, Rina." Decker's throat was clogged. "Just like you."
Rina gave him a weak smile, and Decker suddenly became aware of her exhaustion. But he knew such fatigue was normal after childbirth.
"You did great, Madame Decker!" Georgina's stubby finger stroked Rina's arm. "Just hang in a little bit more, and then you take thatmuch deserved nap."
"Close your eyes, Rina," Decker said.
She nodded as her lids fell shut. Then she jerked them open and started breathing rapidly.
"Everything okay, Dr. Hendricks?" Decker asked.
"So far," the obstetrician answered. "She's expelling the afterbirth now. The contractions won't go away until she does."
Then Rina stopped panting as suddenly as she'd started. Decker watched Hendricks as he tended to Rina. Most of the doctor's face was hidden behind the surgical mask, but his eyes were visible and clouded with concentration. He placed his palms on her abdomen and pushed down. "Rina, do you feel strong enough to nurse the baby?"
Rina whispered yes. So frail.
"That's great, doll," Hendricks said. "Let Nature help us along."
"Help with what?" Decker asked.
The doctor didn't answer. Georgina took the baby from Decker's arms and placed her on Rina's chest. Cradling the infant, Rina watched a little wet mouth bob along her breast until it found the nipple. With a little encouragement, the baby pursed her lips and began to suckle.
Rina closed her eyes again, beads of sweat dotting her brow. At the bedside, Decker dabbed her face with a washcloth. He glanced around the labor room, taking in the surroundings for the first time. The place was papered in a chintz print—some sort of small vining flower. A handloomed rug had been thrown over an institutional tiled floor. The hospital bed was framed in wood, stained to match the wicker of a Sydney Greenstreet chair planted across the room. The homey decor was supposed to give the illusion that the woman was giving birth in her bedroom. But Decker couldn't block out all the medical machinery standing idle against the wall, the I.V. stand tucked into the left-hand corner.
Definitely a hospital.
He had been there for nineteen hours that had somehow been compressed into minutes. Now time was moving in slo-mo. The hands of the wall clock showed him only ten minutes had passed since his daughter had been born. The baby was still sucking on Rina's breast, but her eyes were closed—nursing in her sleep. Pink heart-shaped lips working Mama's nipple as thread-sized veins pulsed in her temple. Decker knew he was biased, but she was a beautiful baby.
His eyes drifted to Rina's face. Her lips were pale and parched.
"Can Rina have something to drink?" he asked.
"Not quite yet," Hendricks said, talking under his mask. Once more he pressed on Rina's stomach.
"Can she at least suck on some ice?"
This time the doctor didn't answer. Decker felt a headache coming on. Maybe he was just hungry—ten hours since he'd last eaten. Again Rina went into her Lamaze breathing. Decker held her hand, offered words of encouragement. Before the arrival of the doctor, he'd felt particularly needed. Now he was an appendage—useful but not indispensable. Rina stopped her labored breathing and wearily closed her eyes. Her voice was a whisper.
"I'm very tired."
"I bet you are," Hendricks said. "How about we give you a rest? Georgina, put the baby in the incubator and wheel her into Infant Recovery." He looked at Decker, and smile lines appeared at the corners of his eyes. "You've got a beautiful, healthy daughter, folks. She shouldn't be in Recovery more than an hour or so. Then they'll move her to the nursery and you'll be able to show her off to the family."
"That'd be nice," said Decker, smiling.
"Grandparents all excited?" Hendricks asked.
"Yeah, they haven't held a newborn in a while."
Neither had he, he thought. Nineteen years. My God, it seemed like yesterday since Cindy was born. And then, sometimes, it seemed like a thousand years. Georgina loaded the baby in the incubator. "Be back in a minute."
Decker nodded, and the room turned quiet. Rina's eyes were closed, her mouth slightly agape. Decker wanted to tell her how much he loved her, but he didn't want to disturb her rest. A few minutes later, Georgina returned. She placed a hand on Decker's shoulder.
"How're you holding up, Pop?"
"Not too bad for an old guy," Decker said. "Mom's resting."
"Yeah, she needs some peace and quiet."
Hendricks said, "Georgina, set up a twenty-milligram Pitocin drip, please." Grievous Sin
. Copyright © by Faye Kellerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.